Friday, May 23, 2014

Confessions of a turtle freak

It's World Turtle Day! Time to come out of your shell and celebrate with other turtle lovers. (Illustration by Jason Raish.)

By Nancy Sedieman, Emory Magazine

I am a turtle freak.

It’s not a label I readily accepted six years ago as I sat among researchers and conservationists in a Savannah conference center, scribbling notes on presentations delivered at the International Sea Turtle Symposium.

One of the speakers made an offhand comment about turtle “freaks” or groupies who attend the symposium with the primary goal of snapping up an array of turtle-themed items from around the world that were sold in the vendor marketplace. I was insulted.

True, I was not technically a sea turtle researcher, but I had spent all night on Florida beaches on turtle patrols, accompanying researchers as they tagged nesting loggerheads and leatherbacks. I had written about their work, read scientific papers on satellite telemetry, loggerhead hatchling mortality, and the migratory behavior of male hawksbills in the Caribbean. Archie Carr was one of my heroes.

Okay, I was one of few “researchers” in the audience who was wearing a loggerhead T-shirt and silver turtle charms that dangled from my earrings, bracelet, and necklace. And yes, my research notebook did have a leatherback turtle embossed on it. But my attire certainly did not mean that I was some sort of fanatic.

My choice in home decor . . . well, perhaps that tells a different story. I survey what I can see from my vantage point on the couch. There’s the loggerhead tea candle stand, the Buddha in the form of a turtle, a framed oil painting of Madagascan flat-tailed tortoises, a jeweled turtle something, a turtle crossing sign . . . and we haven’t left the living room yet.

I am resigned to the fact that when I pass from this life, the headline will read: “Woman Survived by 189 Turtle Figurines.”

What is it about me and turtles? Why does my heart lift whenever I see one of those (even I have to admit) unearthly looking creatures?

It all began at Emory with my exploration of the Lullwater Preserve. What started as a fun pastime—finding box turtles in the deep forest, catching glimpses of soft-shell turtles lurking at the bottle of the creek, and chuckling at painted turtles who managed to wedge themselves in the most unlikely positions in the lakeside brush—led me to wonder about their habits and habitats. Noting my budding interest in turtles, former environmental studies undergraduate Mandy Schmitt Mahoney generously invited me to join her and researchers from other universities in monitoring nesting sea turtles along the Florida coast.

Read the whole article in Emory Magazine.

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